Age: The Last Socially-acceptable Bias
On most levels, bigotry, except this one, is going out of style
Recently, we witnessed an unprecedented event. The largest U.S. broadcast television network, the flagship property of the world’s second largest media and entertainment conglomerate said goodbye to its top-rated sitcom – and an estimated $60+ million in future advertising revenue - in response to a racist tweet posted by the show’s eponymous marque performer. The message? This kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Is the widespread outrage over the tweet – and ABC’s swift and unequivocal response – evidence that we have “solved” the problem of racism in this country? Of course not. But what it does suggest is that bigotry is, at the very minimum, going out of style.
At the same time, “facial discrimination” may be quickly catching up with racial discrimination as a well-known societal ill. In a San Francisco federal court last Tuesday, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) union expanded the scope of the class-action lawsuit they filed last December against some of the country’s largest employers – a diverse list of companies that included Amazon, T-Mobile, Capital One and Enterprise Rent-a-Car – accused of deliberately targeting their Facebook ads to exclude older workers. Coming on the heels of ProPublica’s investigation that IBM has quietly pushed out upwards of 20,000 aging workers over the past five years, the lesson is clear: Age discrimination remains the last socially acceptable bias in our society.
Although the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against people 40 and older, a recent survey by AARP showed that two-thirds of workers between the ages of 45 to 74 said they have seen or experienced ageism. And, for all that has been written about the woeful lack of diversity and “bro culture” that prevails in the tech industry, Silicon Valley’s 150 biggest tech companies have actually faced more accusations of age bias over the past decade than racial or gender bias.
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